“It was that uniquely American institution known as the neighborhood bar, small, softly lit and at this moment catering to that unsophisticated pre-cocktail group whose drinking was a serious business undisturbed and uncomplicated by the social frivolities of the five-thirty crowd.”
A gentle, glasses-wearing vacuum salesman named Luther Dingle –a consummate failure if there ever was one– enjoys a drink in a local bar called O’Toole’s (he was played by the great Burgess Meredith in The Twilight Zone episode, one of his four appearances in the series). Mr. Dingle sits beside one of his odd vacuum contraptions which looks like “a cross between a sickly octopus and a surplus bagpipe.” Nearby, a couple barflies discuss a recent fight which quickly leads to a brawl in the bar as Mr. Dingle is smacked around.
However, unbeknownst to anybody, they are being watched by foreign entities: “And, though none of the aforementioned gentlemen knew it, they were being observed very closely and with great attention by a large, two-headed figure, complete with antennae and a radar-like, protuberant wand that undulated, revolved, and let out small metallic bleeps at regular intervals” (38).
A two-headed visitor from Mars (with a family name of “Xurthya” and orange eyes) observes Mr. Dingle and singles him out as a coward and decides to conduct an experiment wherein Mr. Dingle is granted roughly three hundred times the physical strength of a normal human. With his newfound power, Mr. Dingle then easily lifts a vacuum cleaner, rips a door off the wall, and chucks a schoolyard ball several blocks. Some time later, he lifts a nurse in the park as well as a large boulder and even a thirty foot bronze statue of General Belvedere Washington, a leader of the Whiskey Rebellion. Mr. Dingle is photographed by the Los Angeles Bulletin and he becomes an overnight sensation. The next day at O’Toole’s, Mr. Dingle is scouted for a job at a carnival, or professional sports, or Hollywood. He is featured on a television program, but the Martian known as “Xurthya” who is watching the spectacle unfold expresses disappointment. After having granted Mr. Dingle extraordinary supernatural powers, he merely used them for “petty exhibition.”They quickly remove his powers and leave the bar (headed off to three more planets, including of exclusively women). Before they leave, they are met by two three-foot-tall purple aliens from Venus. The Venusians intend to grant Mr. Dingle super intelligence now –and it amusingly allows Mr. Dingle to successfully predict a game-winning home run using a complex calculation. Perhaps there are others among us who have been given superhuman abilities, the narrator surmises.
Rod Serling’s short story “Mr. Dingle, The Strong” continues a familiar theme in his writing –aliens silently invading earth in order to observe, experiment, and judge the moral fortitude of humanity. These outsiders are not necessarily hostile, however humanity almost always proves to be a disappointment in their eyes (perhaps most infamously in “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”). This short story sticks pretty close to the Twilight Zone episode, albeit with a few minor changes like adding the Martian name of “Xurthya,” and a closing string of musings about the fate of Mr. Dingle as he likely has gone onto MIT now that O’Toole’s bar sits in silence, without its favorite weakling vacuum salesman.
Serling, Rod. More Stories From The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling Books: 1960 (republished in 1990 by the Serling family), Paperback Edition.
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Click here to read my review of The Twilight Zone episode “Mr. Dingle, the Strong”
This would be my least favorite Twilight Zone episode with Burgess Meredith. Although he’s still as good in it. He can be well cast as a social misfit who can somehow find a grand presence as in Time Enough At Last and The Obsolete Man. Speaking as someone who has been something of a misfit in this world, I appreciated how Meredith could show how such individuals may still find their places.
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